Chief Black Hawk Born c. 1830; died September 26, 1870
The Utah Black Hawk War; Colonizing Indigenous America
Settler colonialism caused the Utah Black Hawk War. It was not a single event. It spanned from Mormons' arrival in the upper Great Basin in 1847 to the removal of the Timpanogos' from the Wasatch to the Uintah Valley Reservation in 1871. Our timeline shows between 1849 and 1872, there were over a hundred and fifty vicious attacks on the Timpanogos Nation, resulting in an astonishing 90% decrease in their population. It was the colonization of the American West— at its worst.
Following the murder of LDS church founder Joseph Smith in 1847 in Carthage, Illinois, Mormons departed westward to the Rocky Mountains of the Great Basin in Utah. Led by Brigham Young, they poured into the land of the Timpanogos Nation at some three thousand a month, upsetting the natural order of all living things for the indigenous tribes living there. They killed deer, elk, and buffalo and depleted the fish population in the Timpanogos River(Provo River) and Timpanogos Lake(Utah Lake). They polluted water sources that indigenous tribes solely depended upon for food, medicines, and life-sustaining necessities. With the rapid increase in Mormon population, agricultural development, and barbwire, the Timpanogos soon ran out of territory for sanctuary.
Mormon settlers arrived in Utah territory during the Mexican-American War. They entered a land occupied by tribes of a greater region surrounding the Great Basin, the Montana Blackfoot, Wyoming Cree, Arizona Apache, Colorado Arapaho, Colorado Kiowa, Nevada Washoe, Arizona Navajo, and the Colorado Utes. The Shoshone was the largest tribe, occupying a vast area from Oregon to Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming. Most significant to our story is the Timpanogos Nation that Spanish explorers Domingus and Escalante describe in their journals, who spoke the language of the Snake-Shonshoni and comprised of several bands, i.e., the Paiute and Goshute.
In 1989, Gottfredson's research began on the Utah Black Hawk War. Most accounts of the War described confrontations between the Ute Tribe and Mormon colonists. However, going deeper into the history revealed accounts replete with ambiguities. The Timpanogos and Ute are two distinctly different tribes. Many historians claim the Timpanogos Nation is Ute. However, numerous essential documents obtained from the Department of the Interior and vital records from the Timpanogos Nation and Indian Agency records are definitive. The Utes are from Colorado and were not in Utah until 1881, years after the Black Hawk War ended. The Timpanogos and the Utes both deserve an apology.
Fact: After the Black Hawk War ended in 1872. In 1879, the Colorado Ute Tribe killed a corrupt U.S. Indian agent Nathan Meeker. As punishment for the Meeker Massacre, Congress in 1881 forced the Colorado Ute Tribe to leave their home and assigned them to the Uintah Valley Reservation in Utah as "prisoners of war." Eighteen years previously, Abraham Lincoln had created the Uintah Valley reservation for the Timpanogos who were sent there in 1873. They are not enrolled members of the Colorado Utes and never were. For more on this topic, please read The Timpanogos Ute Oxymoron page.
What is the Shoshone Timpanogos side of the story? Absent from any number of accounts is the Timpanogos Tribe, and it was odd that scholars and authors never asked or cared what indigenous peoples they wrote about had to say. Nor did they ask how they would analyze, interpret, or if they have a different version of the Black Hawk War and the sufferings it caused them.
Unable to find in Utah's archives unbiased accounts of the War with less stereotypical platitudes, omissions, and half-truths. In 2003, Gottfredson turned to not just one tribe but all First Nations of Utah to hear their side of the story. "They requested that I share their version of the Black Hawk War with you," said Gottfredson.
Why have I never heard of the Timpanogos? That is a excellent question. The fact is that until now, the Timpanogos Nation has been left out of Utah's history and school curriculum. In 1776, Spanish explorers Dominguez and Escalante named Mount Timpanogos 'La Sierra Blanca de Los Timpanogos' (translation: The white mountain of the Timpanogos) in honor of the 'Timpanogoitz' Nation. Some say the famous mountain got it's name from an legendary 'Indian maiden." The Timpanogos Tribe acknowledges some truth to the romantic legend, but that is not how it got its name.
Indigenous to the Wasatch and the Great Basin, the Timpanogos Tribe today are the direct living descendants of famous Chiefs Black Hawk, Wakara, Tabby, Arapeen, Sanpitch, Grospeen, and Ammon. Who were brothers and figured most prominently in all the histories of the Black Hawk War. Sanpitch was the father of Black Hawk.
Early historians referred to these legendary leaders as "the privileged blood." Notorious for their leadership, they ruled every clan and village along the Wasatch Front. They were a powerful and prosperous nation highly respected by all in the Great Basin. They had long maintained impressive trade routes from the Columbia River to the Gulf of Mexico. (See Timpanogos Tribe Biography for more detailed information.)
Wakara was the principal Chief of the Timpanogos when Brigham and his followers arrived. Wakara's nephew Black Hawk was barely in his teens and wouldn't become War Chief until 1865 when Tabby became the Nation's principal Chief.
"Confrontations were raging in all directions," said Phillip's great-grandfather Peter Gottfredson who lived among the Timpanogos during those difficult times.
As Mormon colonizers settled among the Timpanogos and began having control of their land, conflict was unavoidable. Quoting from Chief Wakara's Statement to Indian Agent M. S. MARTENAS July 6, 1853. "They were friendly for a short time until they became strong in numbers, then their conduct and treatment towards the Indians changed—they were not only treated unkindly—they have been treated with much severity—they have been driven by this population from place to place—settlements have been made on all their hunting grounds in the valleys, and the graves of their fathers have been torn up by the whites."
Moreover, the most devastating blow to indigenous people was a loss of land, violence, starvation, and the spread of disease due to colonization. Epidemics of smallpox and cholera resulted in untold numbers of deaths. Mormon settlers stole their land and destroyed their culture over a twenty-one-year timeframe, which resulted in a staggering decrease in their population. "I do not suppose there is one in ten, perhaps not one in a hundred, now alive of those who were here when we came," said LDS church leader Brigham Young. Educated estimates and Indian Agency records indicate that the indigenous population was seventy-thousand or more.
"It was the American frontier at its very worst. It has nothing that celebrates our noble ancestors. It's the gritty realities of history, conflict, life, and death." - Historian Will Bagley.
In 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ended the Mexican-American War. The United States agreed to recognize 'Indian' land holdings and allow 'Indian' people to continue their customs and languages. Despite their treaty rights, LDS Church leaders ordered the Timpanogos "exterminated" and spent a million dollars in Church funds to get rid of them. And they, Timpanogos Nation, haven't forgotten the decades of Mormon depredations while living in fear of land-hungry colonists.
They recall the horrifying massacre at Battle Creek above Pleasant Grove in 1849 when Captain John Scott's all Mormon militia took young Black Hawk hostage.
They remember Colonel George D. Grant, money-hungry Dr. Blake, and "Wild Bill" Hickman. Who heinously decapitated 70 of their ancestors at Provo, Fort Utah, in 1850 and sold their heads for profit?
In the Bear River Massacre of 1863, over 400 Shoshoni were slaughtered, led by the remorseless Colonel Patrick Edward Connor. Brigham young supplied Connor's troops with equipment.
At the peak of the Black Hawk War in 1866, Bishop William Jackson Allred led the Circleville Massacre of the Koosharem Paiutes. Twenty-six men, women, and children's throats were slit and buried in a mass grave.
Perry Murdock, a council member of the Timpanogos Nation and a direct descendant of Chief Wakara, said, "Every day we are reminded of what our ancestors went through. Our families were torn apart. Children murdered, the old, the women, all those who were brutally murdered and made to suffer and die from violence, then disease, then starvation, our ancestors' graves torn up, the land destroyed, it was genocide plain and simple. Why? What did we do? We didn't do anything. We were living in peace. We were happy. Our children were happy. We loved each other. We cared for each other. And when the Mormons came, we tried to help them. Then they tried to take everything away from us. They wanted it all. They wanted to exterminate us, wipe us off the face of the earth. Why? For our land? For our oil? Now we have nothing."
Mary Murdock Meyer, direct descendant of Chief Arapeen, "As Chief Executive of the Timpanogos Nation, I speak for the people when I ask why? We fed you when you were hungry. We helped you when you did not understand our lands. Why then were we forgotten? Historians have never asked us about our history or our ancestors. People are wrong when they say we are Ute. We are Shoshoni. The Ute Tribe came from Colorado."
University of Utah Prof. Daniel McCool Ph.D., (Political Science). "We took from them almost all their land—the reservations are just a tiny remnant of traditional tribal homelands. We tried to take their hunting rights, their fishing rights, and the timber on their land. We tried to take from them their water rights. We tried to take from them their culture, their religion, their identity, and perhaps most importantly; we tried to take from them their freedom."
The Denver Rocky Mountain newspaper quoted Brigham Young saying, "You can get rid of more Indians with a sack of flour than a keg of powder." Clearly his intention was to "get rid" of the indigenous population. See Brigham Young Discourses
Firsthand accounts of the Black Hawk War underscore the 'extermination' of the Timpanogos by LDS leaders who proclaimed they had no right to the land. The land of their ancestors they had lived upon since time immemorial. Examples are Peter Gottfredson's events documented in his book Indian Depredations in Utah. For twenty years he was a bishop of the LDS church in Glenwood, Utah, until he retired. He was a friend of Chief Black Hawk and spent much of his time in their camps. He compiled any number of tell-all reports of Mormon racism and cold-hearted brutality that happened over more than a decade. Please take a few minutes and read some excerpts from his book.
There has never been any reconciliation. The Timpanogos were catapulted into near extinction by Mormon colonization and Brigham Young's extermination order No.2 in 1850. Ironically, the Timpanogos Nation has since been completely ignored and left out of history, favoring the Colorado Utes. The legacy of the Black Hawk War has caused tremendous obstacles. Scholars have said "they are the most documented Tribe in Utah," yet they have fought for Federal Recognition for decades. They have survived severe economic issues and sovereign and aboriginal rights violations that the United States Tenth District Court has warned the State of Utah on numerous occasions. "They take whatever they want," said Tribal members living on the Uintah Valley Reservation, "The war over treaty rights never ends."
"heathens," "infidels," and "savages." ...really?
Blinded by their inculturation, the LDS church believes they have a divine obligation to convert Utah's Native Americans to Mormonism, according to church doctrine, and in so doing, the so-called "loathsome" Indians would become a "white and delightsome people." They would be forgiven of the sins of their forefathers. (Book of Mormon 2 Nephi 5:21-23) According to church doctrine, the nature of the dark skin was a curse, and the cause was the Lord; the reason that the Lamanites (Indians) "had hardened their hearts against him, (God)" and the punishment was to make them "loathsome" unto God's people who had white skins.
To fully understand the inculturation of early Christian-led colonists who brought devastation to Native Americans of Utah and across the Americas. It begins with the Doctrine of Discovery (Watch Video). Christian Monarchs in the 1200s declared anyone who did not believe in the God of the Bible or that Jesus Christ was the true Messiah was deemed "heathens," "infidels," and "savages." Christians believed that they were entitled to commit all manner of depredations upon them "by reason of their idolatry and sin." Followed by Andrew Jackson's systematic Indian Removal Act of 1830 and then Manifest Destiny 1839.
It is essential to know that Native American culture is a 'culture of values.' In 1850, John C. Cremony wrote, "If you must judge them, do so by their standards." We cannot begin to fully grasp the devastating emotional impact that the war had on Utah's indigenous until we understand the Black Hawk War from their perspective. Mr. Gottfredson describes in his book BLack Hawk's Mission of Peace that they were 'spiritually connected to the land of their ancestors.' How their relationship with our Creator, each other, and all living things is a timeless and profoundly deep spiritual belief.
Colonists failed to see the age-old message of Indigenous America is 'connection, relationship, and unity.' All people are one. All are the direct living descendants of our Creator. Lakota Chief Joseph said, 'We have no qualms about color. It has no meaning. It doesn't mean anything." After decades of exhaustive research, there is no doubt that this was Chief Black Hawk's message when he made his last ride home to pass out of this world in peace. He was in severe pain, dying from a gunshot wound to his stomach at the Gravely Ford Battle. Chief Black Hawk made an epic hundred-and-eighty-mile journey by horseback from Cedar City in southern Utah to Payson. He spoke to Mormon settlers along the way. He advocated for peace and an end to the bloodshed. This heroic journey was Black Hawk's 'mission of peace,' but it gets left out of Utah's often slanted religious view of history.
Honesty, love, courage, truth, wisdom, humility, and respect were the virtues Black Hawk and his people honored. Being a solid leader came naturally. Black Hawk's charismatic charm befriended people from all walks of life, and his leadership skills aroused people's loyalty with enthusiasm. (See Black Hawk's Biography)
Another example is found in the words of Chief Sitting Bull when he said, "The warrior is not someone who fights, for no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is the one who sacrifices himself for the good of others. His task is to take care of the elderly, the defenseless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity."
Understanding Native American culture and time-honored traditions are essential when establishing meaningful relations with Native American peoples, especially for educators with Native students in their classrooms. When the Shoshoni invited Mr. Gottfredson to live with their family in Oregon, one of the first things they taught was Indian protocols.
"How do I know these things? I lived with them; I found the truth. These are traditional teachings of the Timpanogos I learned while living with them and Native Americans throughout North and South America. History is not just the study of the past; it's also the ethnology of indigenous people, present traditions, rituals, and legacies. But it's not about me, its about the human race, it's about the circle of life. I'm only the messenger," Mr. Gottfredson.
Did the Mormons try to help the Timpanogos? We forget that many of our ancestors had deep and meaningful relationships with the Timpanogos, and we need to acknowledge that. And that is what makes it so hard for people to talk about the Black Hawk War. In 1866 when Chief Black Hawk had been wounded in a battle Gravely Ford, Canute Peterson of Ephraim paid a visit to the ailing leader Black Hawk—taking sugar, hams, bread, beads, molasses, tea, coffee, tobacco, flour, medicines, and clothing. Sadly, important stories such as this get buried in all the rhetoric.
In the end, however, members of the LDS Church robbed Black Hawk's grave at Spring Lake. His mortal remains were on public display in the window of a hardware store in Spanish Fork, Utah, and for amusement later was moved to Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, and there remained on public display for decades.
There is much we can learn from First Nation people if only we would listen. We need to help each other. We need to help each other learn and heal from our history's challenging times. We need to find a pathway to forgiveness and help to build that bridge between our cultures with compassion and mutual respect for humanity.
To paraphrase Sean P. Havey, Ph.D. author of Native Tongues, The concept of "Race" that took hold in the 1800s created physical and cultural divisions in humanity. It is essential to understand that it was crucial to early America. It provided the foundation for the colonization of Native Land and the enslavement of Native Americans and Africans.
It can be hard to hear the truth when it challenges the stories told us since we were born. The truth can be shocking, leaving us with two choices - defend the status quo or be open to the facts.
There is but one race, and it's called the human race. Black Hawk War, Mormon colonialism...I don't have all the answers, but imagine, together, we can pick up the torch for Black Hawk and continue his mission for peace for generations to come. - Phillip B Gottfredson
"I see a time of seven generations, when all the colors of mankind will gather under the sacred tree of life, and the whole earth will become one circle again." -Chief Crazy Horse- Ogala Lakota.
Phillip B Gottfredson author of "Black Hawk's Mission of Peace"
Phillip B Gottfredson is a volunteer historian for the Timpanogos Nation. Phillip spent decades learning from the Ute, Shoshone, and Native American Tribes throughout North and South America. He received guidance from tribal elders and leaders, a unique distinction among today's historians. Personally involved in Native American culture, Phillip's book, Black Hawk's Mission of Peace, gives an unprecedented and intimate perspective into the Shoshoni Timpanogos peoples of Utah. Phillip's account of the war and description of indigenous lifeways offers much-needed clarity to Utah's history with Native Americans that, until now, has been grossly misrepresented and deliberately ignored. Archway Publishing publishes him from Simon & Schuster.
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This Months Featured Topics:
The Tintic War Feb. 21, 1856 "the Indians, a part of the Timpanogos, again became hostile, and a sufficient number of them went on the war path to make it expensive and annoying to the settlers." -Peter Gottfredson
Guatemala My journey to San Pedro was to research the historical, and spiritual connection between North and South American Native peoples.
Phillip B Gottfredson's Bio & Source Material